Whether you are headed to Jamaica for your first visit or your twentieth, you may already know about the scenic beauty, the wonderful culture, and the many amazing things to do throughout the island, but have you considered the food? While Jamaica does not often rate as a world-class destination for gourmands or even the dedicated foodies, it is actually a spot with a huge list of “must try” flavors and local specialties.
Just consider how many cultures have influenced the food, and the way that its location also has impacted the dishes developed there. In traditional, authentic Jamaican cuisine you will see influences from the cuisines of Africa, China and India as well as Britain and even Spain and the U.S.
So, to be sure your upcoming Jamaican holiday is as flavorful as possible, we offer you these suggestions:
The National Dish
Ackee and saltfish is considered the island’s national dish, and it is most often served for breakfast. The ackee is a fruit that is bright red with yellow flesh, and it is just the ripened flesh that is cooked up and served with the fish, breadfruit, boiled green bananas, boiled dumplings, and Johnny cakes.
Spiciness is a huge part of Jamaican cooking and the term “jerk” is used to describe a blend of flavors that are used as a dry rub and marinade in addition to a sauce. The most commonly prepared dish is jerk chicken, and you can expect to find an array of flavors (mostly native to the island) in the dish. Scotch bonnet peppers, cinnamon, nutmeg and pimento are the strongest and most common. These are rubbed on the dry chicken and then the meat is slowly roasted for a few hours. Served with a hard-dough bread on the side, it is a heavenly dish.
These are not the patties that most of us envision when we hear that word. Instead, they are more like a small pie. They are made both sweet and savory, and you will find them everywhere. The best are the homemade versions so often found in stands in the markets. They will usually feature meat or vegetarian fillings seasoned with a curry-like or stronger blend of spices. They are fried or baked and make a fantastic snack or great packable dish for a picnic.
This is similar to ceviche of Latin American cuisine and is made using the freshest seafood that is then marinated in spices, onions and a strong vinegar. This “cooks” or makes the fish safe for consumption and creates an amazingly delicious dish. It is often served like a seafood cocktail, and is an unforgettably light and fresh starter or even main course.
Looking just like bananas, these large, green skinned fruit are much starchier than bananas and are often fried as a side dish. They end up with a texture similar to a properly cooked sweet potato, but are fabulous as a snack when sold in market stalls. These are a must try, and most find they want to try to prepare them on their own when they get home. If you have booked a villa with a cook, you may want to ask them to show you just how it is done!
Apart from jerk chicken, this is the most frequently prepared dish. It is exactly what its name describes, curried goat meat, and it is often quite spicy. It was once only prepared for special events, but is now an everyday dish often served with rice and peas on the side.
These are the basic dishes that you must try when visiting Jamaica. You can find them on five-star menus in addition to small, local restaurants. If you have a rental with a local cook, you may also ask them to teach how to prepare some of the island’s classic dishes as well.